TALLAHASSEE — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a top Republican contender for governor next year, said he would support proposed changes in Florida law to let "law-abiding gun owners" carry firearms on college and university campuses and openly in public places.
Conservative lawmakers in the Florida Legislature have pushed for both proposals, but in the past two years, the measures died in the Senate where moderate Miami-Dade Republicans used their influence to halt the bills. The pieces of legislation — strongly supported by the National Rifle Association — are likely to return in the 2018 session, and Putnam told reporters Tuesday the concepts have his endorsement.
"There is absolutely a pathway for Florida to get to a form of open carry," said Putnam, the lone Republican gubernatorial candidate to date.
"We have a track record in Florida of law-abiding citizens who submit their fingerprints, undergo a background check and lawfully exercise their Second Amendment rights," Putnam said in reference to Florida's process of obtaining a concealed-weapons permit. "Continuing to expand their opportunities to exercise those Second Amendment rights is something I support."
Putnam made the remarks at a news conference at the Florida National Guard Armory in Tallahassee, where he promoted a milestone for a two-year-old state program that expedites approval of concealed weapons permits for military service members and veterans.
More than 82,000 applications have been approved through that program since July 2015, when it was set up after a terrorist attack on two military installations in Tennessee that summer. About 1.8 million people have concealed weapons permits in Florida.
On specifically allowing campus-carry in the state, Putnam said: "I think that gun-free zones where the victims have no opportunity to defend themselves ought to be modified in a responsible way, so people can exercise their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves."
Flanked by members of the Florida National Guard, Putnam added: "Think of the number of students who are also in the Guard. Think of the number of students who have done their time in Afghanistan or Iraq. Think of the number of students who have had extraordinary amounts of firearms training, who are highly qualified, highly competent and safe. There is absolutely a way for people to exercise their Second Amendment rights in a responsible way."
Before Putnam held the news conference, Democrats bashed him for a Facebook post he published Monday criticizing gun control advocates for protesting the NRA in Tampa because of the organization's recent recruitment ad.
Putnam wrote that the protest was a "classic progressive move. Desperate attempt to limit our Second Amendment rights."
Narrated by conservative television host Dana Loesch, the ad depicts a U.S. on the brink of a violent revolution. Loesch claims that an ex-president, (an implied Barack Obama) is "endorsing the resistance."
"The only way we stop this," Loesch says to the camera, "the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth."
Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, accused Putnam of "endorsing" the ad that she said "was meant to provoke fear and stoke the flames of division."
"If Adam Putnam is endorsing this video, he's encouraging violence against fellow Americans," she said in a statement.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, also weighed in, saying: "Once again, Commissioner Adam Putnam has shown us just whose side he is on: the National Rifle Association. ... It's a shameful day when someone who wants to lead our state stands behind such violent, divisive rhetoric, and against commonsense gun protections for Floridians."
Putnam is the only declared Republican in the 2018 governor's race at the moment. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, says he'll make an announcement Aug. 16 about his plans. (Although, his son and state Rep. Chris Latvala is already using the hashtag #Ibackjack.) Other possible Republican contenders are House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.
Among Democrats, Gillum is running against former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, also of Tallahassee, and Orlando businessman Chris King. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan might also run.
After seeing Putnam's comments reported by the Times/Herald Tuesday afternoon, Graham issued a statement saying: "Imagine how great our universities could be if the Republicans in charge of state government spent as much time talking about student achievement as they do arming students."
Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark